| TEL AVIV
TEL AVIV Israel's hopes of securing at least a playoff position for a place in next year's World Cup finals suffered a major blow after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Azerbaijan in Group F on Saturday.
Israel enjoyed the bulk of possession and mounted attack after attack on the Azeri goal, but were stunned just after the hour when Rahid Amirguliyev let fly from 25 metres with a powerful rising shot that beat keeper Dudu Aouate.
Itay Shechter gave the home team hope with an equaliser on 73 minutes after one of the few moves that did find a free man in front of goal and he had an easy task in slotting the ball home from close range.
Israel have 12 points from seven games, three behind Russia and five less than leaders Portugal who have played a game more.
Israel travel to face Russia on Tuesday and play Portugal away next month before concluding their campaign at home to Northern Ireland.
Coach Eli Guttman had to discard almost a dozen players from his plans because of injury and he lamented his plight in the post-match news conference.
"I am so sad after this match, I planned ahead and looked to build a solid squad but so many players became injured that it threw everything into disarray," Guttman said.
It was a fifth draw in eight games for Azerbaijan, who have yet to win in 2014 qualifying, but veteran German coach Berti Vogts said the result showed that his side were on an upward trend.
"We narrowly lost other close matches in this group but we have done well here to get a draw. A few years after the team came here and lost 6-0 here in a friendly, it shows that we are improving," Vogts said.
(Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Justin Palmer)